About chestercycling

After a number of years in Manchester, writing the blog MCRcycling a new job has brought me to the historic and picturesque city of Chester. Much as before I will be writing about my experiences cycling in Chester along with general cycle advocacy and technical information and how-to guides related to the cycling components I indulge in.

Transport Security

Energy Security, according to Wikipedia, is “a term for an association between national security and the availability of natural resources for energy consumption. Access to cheap energy has become essential to the functioning of modern economies. However, the uneven distribution of energy supplies among countries has led to significant vulnerabilities.” Therefore, Transport Security can be thought of as a subset of energy security; the relationship between the essential role transport plays in the functioning of modern economies and the availability of the resources required by said transport. In 2005, transport accounted for approximately 35% of UK energy consumption.

The transport security of a country is dependent on several factors, including:

  • Transport mode mix
  • Transport infrastructure
  • Energy infrastructure
  • Energy prices & domestic resources
  • State intervention
  • Density of development

The UK’s transport is currently dominated by one mode; the private car. This domination is a result of several decades of car-favouring infrastructure design, preferential state investment in car infrastructure, state subsidy of the external costs arising from driving and low energy prices. These factors have enabled the private car to become the dominant mode of passenger transport in the UK, despite the significant inefficiency of the private car compared to other transport modes. These factors have had a significant effect the density and nature of both new residential and commercial developments and wreaked havoc on those which were constructed prior to the dominance of the private car. Building preferentially for the private car has also led to road freight becoming the dominant means of moving goods around in the UK (85% in 1998)

The continued decline in the UK’s North Sea oil production has led to it becoming a net importer of crude oil, and the price of fossil fuel-derived energy is set to continue rising. Changing the energy source of cars from burning fossil fuels to battery-electric is often mooted as a solution by both the motor lobby and the government, which has given generous subsidies to the manufacturers and buyers of electric cars. Whilst frequently mooted as a solution to the UK’s transport woes, electric cars have a number of the same problems as conventionally fuelled cars; inefficient use of space (especially in urban areas) detrimental effect on other transport modes, negative health effects to their operators and passengers arising from the sedentary lifestyle facilitated by car dependence and the death or injury of operators, passengers and third parties through improper use.

At present in the UK, electric cars also have a number of problems distinct from conventionally-fuelled cars; much of the UK’s electricity-generation infrastructure is fossil fuel-based and vulnerable to much the same pressures on price as conventionally-fuelled cars and at the time of writing, much of the UK’s electricity generating capacity is due to be retired in the next few years. Whilst there are advantages to burning fossil fuels in facilities away from large population centres rather than within them, the issue of the need to replace much of the UK’s electricity generating infrastructure in the near future (referred to as the ‘energy gap‘) is a major hurdle to shifting cars from their reliance on the inefficient use of fossil fuel-derived energy to the inefficient use of electrical energy. Put simply, a large scale renewal of existing electricity generating capacity taking place at the same time building the expansion in generating capacity required to shift much of the 35% of energy expenditure arising from transport to electricity would represent a significant challenge, especially considering the UK’s emissions targets.

This puts the UK at a cross-roads with regards to its future transport security. There are several realistic possibilities:

  1. Significantly expand, diversify and de-carbonise electricity generating capacity at the same time as replacing much of the existing, fossil fuel-based generation capacity. This will allow personal transport to shift from its current car-dependent form reliant on the inefficient use of direct fossil fuel-derived to a similar car-dependent form reliant on the inefficient use of (cheap) non-fossil fuel-derived electricity. This option does nothing to address the other problems arising from a car-dominated transport system (discussed above) and has the further disadvantage of not offerring any realistic prospect of significant future expansion, due to space constraints. A transport mix heavily dominated by a single mode is also less resilient to unforeseen future stresses.
  2. Replace the electricity generating capacity which is due for renewal without the significant expansion required for a move to electric cars whilst investing in infrastructure required to diversify the transport mix. This can be done by investing in infrastructure which favours more efficient modes of transport, such as walking, cycling and rail. This has the added advantage of addressing some of the issues arising from a car-dominated transport system (discussed above) and has the further advantage of offering a realistic prospect of significant future expansion, due to more efficient use of space. A more diverse transport mix is also more resilient to unforeseen future stresses.
  3. Replace the electricity generating capacity which is due for renewal without the significant expansion required for a move to electric cars, without investing in infrastructure required to diversify the transport mix. Transport will continue to be dominated by the private, fossil fuel-powered car for the foreseeable future. This option does nothing to address the problems arising from a (fossil fuel-powered) car-dominated transport system (discussed above) has the further disadvantage of not offerring any realistic prospect of significant future expansion, due to space constraints and leaves the majority of UK transport (and the economic activity reliant on it) dependent on imported fuels, vulnerable to price spikes and fluctuations in availability. As in option 1, a transport mix heavily reliant on a single mode is less resilient to unforeseen stresses than a diverse transport mix.

In the past, the UK’s North Sea oil reserves and established electricity generating capacity had given the UK the luxury of choosing whether to address the issue of its future transport security or do nothing. Naturally when given this choice, doing nothing is the easiest choice, even if it has significant drawbacks. In the next few years, the UK will be at the point where something has to be done as a matter of urgency. I just hope that we put the work in now to diversify both our transport and electricity generation mixes to ensure transport security in the long-term.

Richard Wellings and the IEA offer a radical alternative to fuel duty

A report from the right-wing pressure group the Institute for Economic Affairs (in which the author at first seems to struggle to set out a case for abolishing fuel duty) has attracted some interest on Twitter, in part because of its rather ‘free-market’ attitude to the value of human life:

“While the discussion may seem callous, it is the case that some road fatalities save the government significant sums of money, for example in future health and pension expenditure.”

The report states that contributions from fuel duty and something which the report refers to as a ‘road tax’ (presumably the author is referring to the emissions-based Vehicle Excise Duty) outstrip the government’s current spending on road building and maintenance. Presumably the reader is supposed to infer from this that road building and maintenance are the only external costs arising from motoring where as the reality is that motoring costs the taxpayer at least £9 billion per year more than it produces in tax receipts. Surprisingly  for someone who has apparently managed to acquire a PhD in transport and environmental policy, Richard Wellings seemed to be unaware of this shortfall when writing the report:

“Motoring taxes were being used to fund general public expenditure, primarily on the welfare state. Spending on roads was only equivalent to about a fifth of the motoring tax take and a significant proportion was devoted to ‘anti-car’ schemes.”

However despite the IEA seemingly not doing their research on the wider costs of motoring, I was rather encouraged by this:

“The privatisation of the road network would facilitate the abolition of fuel duty. The flotation of motorways and trunk roads would raise approximately £150 billion, which would be used to make large cuts in fuel duty. Government spending on transport would then be phased out, saving about £20 billion p.a. Finally, general tax revenues would increase markedly due to substantial efficiency gains, including much lower levels of congestion.”

Note here that the term ‘transport’ is used here to refer to ‘car transport.’ For a right-wing pressure group the IEA seem oddly determined to remove individual’s choice when it comes to transport mode.

Presumably, the problems arising after the privatisation of the railway, electricity, gas, water and telecommunications infrastructure and services are supposed to be seen by the reader as the exception rather than the rule when it comes to privatisation. The report only specifically mentions motorways and trunk roads, suggesting the author, like Minister for Roads and moron Mike Penning, is labouring under the false assumption that trunk roads (like motorways) are for the exclusive use of motorised vehicles. However, when I thought more about it, I got the feeling that there might be more to this report than meets the eye.

The big question is, why only mention motorways and trunk roads? Surely the private sector would be more dynamic and innovative than local authorities when it comes to local roads and surely the IEA wouldn’t support funding these roads through council tax. So let’s suppose we privatise the whole road network, carriageways, footways and all. Setting aside the wider issues of selling basically the entire public realm off to private companies, what would privatised road transport without fuel tax and no VED look like?

Carving it up

Traditionally privatisation in the UK has taken the form of a handful of monopolies dominating a different regions, and there is no reason to expect that the privatisation of the road network to be much different. However, it may be the case that some companies specialise in roads formerly controlled by local authorities, whilst different companies specialise in trunk roads, motorways or rural roads. In order to be charged, expect to have your movements tracked like never before.

Externalities

Naturally with the contribution towards covering some of the wider costs of motoring coming from VED and fuel tax gone, it would fall to the road operating companies to cover the external costs arising from their operations. Costs such as the hospitalisation and ongoing care costs arising both directly from road traffic collisions and indirectly from factors like air pollution and obesogenic environments would no-longer have to be paid for by taxpayers, which should be reflected by a significant reduction in the individual’s tax burden.

An interesting knock-on effect from this would be that motorway-style road designs in towns and cities which encourage dangerous driving behaviour, require different modes of travel to mix, or which produce high-levels of emissions in densely populated areas through inappropriately high speed limits would likely be phased out by road operating companies in favour of designs which reduce their costs. New designs would enforce lower speed limits in populated areas and separate out different vehicle types in order to drive down costs.

Similarly, whilst the criminal justice system at present is reluctant to hand a lifetime ban even to those who have clearly demonstrated they should never, ever drive again, under a privatised road system, road operating companies would seek to minimise their liability by either banning such drivers from the roads they operate or else charge such individuals for access at such a rate that it acts as a de facto ban.

Costs for motor traffic users

Following on from the banning (or de facto banning) of dangerous drivers, high risk drivers such as those who have been previously involved in crashes, new drivers, young drivers or old drivers would likely be charged at a higher rate. Certain journeys would require using parts of the network owned and operated by different companies, the result of which being that whilst some journeys may be relatively easy or cheap, others could become quite costly and difficult with the difference between the two being down to largely arbitrary factors. With the effective monopolies road operating companies would likely be given over certain routes (as described above) and light-touch regulation from the state, it is likely that costs to motor-traffic users would increase above inflation year-on-year, as is currently seen on the privatised rail network.

Naturally, road operating companies would seek to maximise profits by charging a higher rate for peak-time use, in addition to increasing peak-time road capacity by reducing speed limits, whilst rural users would likely face higher standard-rate charges due to the lack of economies-of-scale on the roads servicing more remote, sparsely-populated communities, but people are free to move home if they so choose. Bus services using multiple road operating companies’ roads may be more expensive than routes along roads operated by a single company.

Another advantage of privatised roads would be that the current blight of local authorities providing free on-street car parking for people who don’t work hard enough to own a house with a driveway will end, in favour of parking charges at the market rate.

Impact on road freight

A knock-on effect from higher peak-time pricing would be that it would be more economical for businesses to schedule deliveries during off-peak times. Large and heavy goods vehicles would naturally face much higher charges than smaller motor vehicles due to their increased wear on the road, disruptive effect on other traffic and significantly increased costs arising from death or injury. However, the advantage of this would be in restoring the competitiveness of rail freight; rail freight hubs would be viable in most towns and cities, with the last mile delivered by smaller delivery vehicles.

Costs for non-motorised users

The issue of non-motorised traffic (pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders) is not touched upon in the report itself, but it is easy to infer how these types of traffic should be dealt with. Naturally, like motor traffic these traffic types will require extensive tracking for the purposes of charging. However, as we have expected the road operating companies to pay for the negative externalities arising from motorised traffic, it is only fitting that we reward them for the positive externalities of non-motorised traffic.

Positive externalities such as productivity benefits and reduced instances of sick leave to employers whose employees travel to work on foot or by cycle, reduced healthcare expenditure and reduced emissions and benefits to local businesses along walking and cycling routes should be used to offset the costs of negative externalities to road operating companies. The knock-on effect of this is that road designs which maximise the uptake of walking and cycling would be a worthwhile investment for road operating companies, as would be removing road designs which create conflict between road users. As they produce almost exclusively positive externalities, the direct cost to pedestrians and bicyclists would be zero, although tracking and monitoring would still be required to calculate the offset to negative externalities a road operating company had earned from its pedestrian and bicyclist users.

In conclusion

At first glance Richard Wellings’ report, ‘Time To Excise Fuel Duty?’ might appear to be overly simplistic drivel which overlooks the existence and value of pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, children and most startlingly the value of human life, bringing shame on the very institution of the PhD. Taken at face value, it certainly pushes all the classic right-wing buttons; motorists portrayed as unfairly-taxed victims whose travel choice is essential for economic prosperity and producing absolutely no significant negative outcomes for third parties, those living in rural areas are portrayed as victims and pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport users and children effectively do not exist. Even human life is given a market rate. However, on second glance what the report is proposing would actually be radical subversion of current right-wing thinking on driving. Reading between the lines, Richard Wellings is proposing a model in which motorists pay a fair price for their externalities and car use is restrained in favour of modes which produce positive externalities – an extremely logical, sensible proposal disguised between the lines in a report from the IEA.

Travelling by train: The rules

Whilst I’m a big fan of the bicycle as the main means of everyday transport, for longer distances I prefer the train. The train makes a lot of sense, but it can be intimidating for newcomers. Therefore I decided to put together this handy guide to behaving on the train.

The golden rule: Think of the train as an extension of your home.

This is probably the core of almost all of the other rules. You’ve paid for this train journey, so you deserve to put your feet up and make yourself at home

Getting on and off the train:

1. The doors

When the train arrives and you wish to get on, it makes sense to position yourself square in front of the nearest set of train doors. Other passengers may wish to alight, but they’ll doubtless find your enthusiasm for the train they’re desperately trying to leave endearing.

2. Have a seat

Once you have managed to fight your way past the passengers getting off the train, make sure you sort out your bags and remove any extra layers of clothing you might wish to before you get settled into your seat. There’ll be no time for all that once you’re underway.

3. Luggage

Luggage is best kept within reach and thankfully each train seat comes with a seat-shaped table for storage of personal belongings. If you have a lot of luggage, it can be haphazardly tossed into the racks at the ends of the carriage as you get on the train.

During travel:

4. Sprawl

If the train becomes rather busy, make sure you have something to put on the seat-shaped table next to your seat, lest a newcomer to train travel come along and mistake the table for a spare seat.

5. Tables and four seater areas

The middle of some carriages have extra tables and seat-shaped tables for the lucky  lone traveller who gets there first.

6. Music and video

Some passengers may have forgotten to bring a personal music or video playing device along for the trip, or worse, be too poor to afford one of their own. They’ll doubtlessly be delighted should you choose to share your own music, or even better the sound from a video over a loudspeaker.

7. Going to the game

Travelling on the train to football matches is a popular way for many individuals who usually travel by car to spectate at sporting events and also indulge in alcohol. It is only natural that other passengers will be curious about your team allegiance. Loud, inappropriate bellowing will serve to enlighten your curious fellow travellers.

8. Progeny

Other train passengers may not have children of their own and will undoubtedly appreciate the opportunity to experience parenthood as you sit back and let your children climb over them and fight with each other in the aisles. Likewise, nothing helps drown out that nasty engine noise quite as well as four hours of a baby crying whilst being ignored by his or her parent.

9. Standing

Should your train run out of seating space, you may have to stand. To make the best of a bad situation, standing passengers squash into the ends of the carriages to form impromptu mosh pits. Standing in the aisles of the carriage is seen as a sign of weakness.

In the station:

10. Ticket barriers

Larger stations have automated ticket barriers, which have robbed many people of their jobs as station staff. naturally passengers are against this and in solidarity shun the many automated ticket barriers in favour of everyone entering and exiting the station through the same solitary staffed barrier which was intended for use by passengers with wheelchairs/crutches/prams/large luggage or bicycle. In addition to this, many passengers express their preference for human staff by asking this lone barrier attendant for timetabling information which is readily available on the many automated screens.

11. Smoking

Whilst smoking in stations is banned in the UK, but no-one minds really. Some of your fellow passengers may be too poor to afford smokes anymore and will doubtless appreciate your second hand smoke taking them back to a happier time.

I hope this guide can help those new to train travel to fit right in on Britain’s trains

After the gritting

The recent snow and the resulting gritting had not been kind to the Brompton and I had not properly cleaned the bike since just before the Japan trip. After the snow melt the original chain and sprockets which came with the bike were in need of some attention. The 2-speed and BWR 6-speed Bromptons use Shimano cassette splined cogs (the SRAM 6-speed uses standard 3-spline sprockets) which have an asymmetrical pattern preventing the sprockets from being reversed when worn.

When worn beyond a certain point, it is necessary to replace the chain and sprockets together, although I started the job under the impression that the sprockets on the BWR hub would be reversible like on the other hub gears I’ve used. This problem was confounded by the fact that the replacement 16/13 tooth sprocket set was out of stock everywhere which didn’t have extortionate delivery rates and Chester’s only Brompton seller doesn’t stock spares, “We can order that in for you though.”

Whilst waiting for my sprocket set to arrive, I decided to try some cheap, reversible cassette-splined single speed sprockets. Whilst these were full-groove sprockets which were not designed for derailing, older hybrid gearing systems like Cyclo and Dacon encouraged me to try. Suffice to say, 16-to-13 shifts do not work with the Brompton’s rather basic 2-speed derailleur, but at least I have the parts needed to run the bike as a 3-speed should there be future shortages of the necessary replacement sprockets. 

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Original sprockets on the left, basic 3/32″ single speed sprockets on the right.

Whilst the 13-tooth sprocket looks like it would probably work in combination with a Brompton 16-tooth sprocket, but in the end when I received the larger Brompton ‘official’ sprocket it did not. Somehow, it seems the gap between the two sprockets seems oddly too small for the chain to stay on the smaller sprocket.

Sprockets

The sprocket incompatibility was discovered because the 13-tooth Brompton sprocket I eventually received was a three-spline type for use with most other types of hub gear. Subsequent tests also revealed that the 13-tooth sprocket contained up to 60% horse meat. I emailed the supplier (SJS) and was informed that the item was out of stock and that it “was not possible” to remove the sprocket I needed from one of the kits allowing the BWR to be run as a three-speed (which showed up in stock) and replace it at a later date. Instead I was offered a 12-tooth sprocket as a stop-gap and the 13-tooth sprocket would be forwarded on in a few weeks when the stock shortage was sorted. The 12-tooth sprocket works fine, although the gear steps are a bit uneven.

The rear brake pads also required a bit of attention. When I got the new Brompton I changed the front brake pads for Kool Stop salmon pads but left the rear ones as stock. These have since worn out, so I replaced them with a set of Kool Stop pads ordered with the Axa bottle dynamo. When these were delivered, the box turned out to be two pairs of pads and one set of shoes, which has left me with a spare set of brake shoes and pads to fit to Ms C’s Brompton, which still has the old style so\ingle pivot caliper on the back.

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The last round of replacement parts was the telescopic seat-post. This part has improved the experience of riding the Brompton, but at less than 1 year old I am quite disappointed by the significant loss of the chroming on the lower tube and the fragmenting of the plastic upper sleeve which is not available as a separate replacement part (instead it comes bundled with the lower part of the seat-post). In time I will try to patch up the original lower seat-post (stay tuned) but for now I have ordered a replacement lower part of the telescopic seat-post which should solve the issues for a while.

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The chrome layer flaking off inside the tube too.

Finally, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was working on the Brompton to do some rust-prevention on the frame, by spraying Waxoyl into the tubes of the rear frame, main frame and the stem. Waxoyl is spray which leaves a flexible waxy layer over the inside of the frame tubes when dry, designed to get rid of existing rust and prevent any further rusting. I had considered doing this when the bike was new, but at the time it was summer and rust-prevention didn’t seem such a pressing matter. Until it dries, this stuff flows inside the tubes, so it is best to spray roughly parallel tubes and keep them fairly level until the foam dries, before moving on to other tubes. I avoided spraying the seat-tube as the waxy layer left behind would likely lead to significant seat-post slippage. I’ll get around to the head-tube and fork when I have to do some work on the headset. Some of it ended up on the chain and seems to be quite good as a ‘dry’ chain lubricant.

Axa HR Traction bottle dynamo

The last holdout bike in the household has finally ditched battery lights. After giving her Brompton a dynamo wheel by selflessly buying myself a new Brompton, I had been promising Ms C. that I would sort out her Kona Africa bike with dynamo lights. Due to various upgrades I had managed to end up with a spare B&M Lumotec Retro front lamp and a spare Brompton Spanninga rear light. All I was waiting for was the next time I needed to order something from Rose Bikes and I could add on one of their cheap Axa HR Traction bottle dynamos. Thanks to worn out stock Brompton brake pads, that time finally came.

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This is the same dynamo which used to be specified by Brompton (the left mounting version) before the Shimano dynamo hubs became available. Rose sell them for £14-15, depending on exchange rate, which is probably quite galling for anyone who bought them as a Brompton part. Thankfully, the parts needed to run this dynamo on the Brompton rear wheel (a special stay and a mudguard with a cut-out) are still available as spares, making this particular dynamo probably the cheapest (and fully supported) route to dynamo lighting on a Brompton.

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The bottom of the dynamo has two pairs of remarkably simple wire connectors, simply insert stripped wire into plastic housing and push it into the dynamo body. The arrangement allows front and rear lights to be connected to the dynamo independently of each other, rather than requiring the rear light be connected through the front as is the case with most hub dynamo set-ups. In the end I ran the rear light from the connectors on the Lumotec Retro so that it would be less work if the Kona Africa Bike ended up with a hub dynamo.

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Axa also make a dynamo mounting bracket which screws onto cantilever/linear pull brake bosses (front left/rear right only – requires left mounting version of dynamo). A simple design which works well, although the screw shown connecting bracket and dynamo was not included.

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Since the Africa Bike was kitted out with a front rack in 2011, the front lamp could not be mounted on the fork crown or using the headset bracket. Instead I used the cork-lined p-clip supplied with the front rack to fix the lamp in place on the right hand supporting leg, Japanese style.

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Not exactly elegant, but it does the job.

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Similarly, the rear light attachment was a bit of a bodge. Since the rear rack in integral to the Africa Bike’s frame and lacks a rear light mounting plate, I drilled four holes into a roughly 100 mm section of trunking lid I had knocking about. Two of these were for the fixing bolts on the light, the other two were to create a slot for the jubilee clip used to attach the creation to the rear rack. Not pretty but it does the job.

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I took the bike out for a spin with the dynamo on to make sure I had set it up without too much pressure causing excessive drag. Thankfully it was spot-on; other than the whirr of the roller it was barely noticeable. For a bike such as this which is used as practical transportation rather than high speed, high effort riding, this set-up works really well.

Driving Lessons

Due to a combination of factors, including discrimination against non-drivers when job-hunting, the problem of Christmas and most significantly an effective contractual obligation, last year I ended up learning to drive. I thought it might be interesting to keep a record of the experience, as an outsider’s perspective.

Lesson One:

Driving instructor asked me if I had any previous driving experience. I answered literally, telling him that I had driven a car a few times, not on the road, around ten years ago. We headed to a part of Blacon with plenty of quiet residential streets and he proceeded to explain how the machine worked, about the mirrors and the visual limitations of being in car, particularly the wide pillars either side of the windscreen and between the side doors.

Eventually I got to drive the car. It was quite an odd experience, I felt a bit low down and quite detached from the environment I was passing through. Eventually we ended up on some of the two-lane main roads (which are sadly commonplace in Chester) for a bit of practice with roundabouts. The whole time, I was shocked at how easy it was. Other drivers didn’t routinely cut me up or try to force me to yield. Decades of car-centric planning and road design, combined with extremely generous subsidies made this big, wide, five-person vehicle perhaps the easiest way to get around the peripheral areas of Chester. Roundabouts in particular were a revelation, being much easier in a faster vehicle where other road users don’t routinely try to bully you into giving up priority.

Lesson Two:

This lesson involved a lot more driving on faster roads. I was also encouraged to turn the car around on a few different quiet roads, which helped to bring home how poor the range of vision in cars can be, demonstrating how inappropriate they are in an urban setting. Presumably the instructor’s curriculum is aimed at the widest possible audience; much of the lesson was spent going over stuff which anyone who regularly uses the roads would have picked up, regardless of mode.

Lesson Three:

Reversing into parking bays is the main lesson here, with recaps of the other stuff we have covered. We also covered emergency stops. In an automatic, emergency stops are much the same as on a bike (except you don’t need to move your weight backwards because cars are generally quite heavy already).

On the faster roads I really started to notice how ubiquitous speeding is. On a bike I will generally find myself going as fast as I can on a fast road which is busy. In a flow of traffic where everyone is speeding, it is possible for a learner to get sucked into the flow. Thankfully, despite what the Association of British Drivers says, it is actually very easy to look at the speedometer quite frequently and adjust speed accordingly. Compared to having a queue of impatient motorists behind you when riding a bike, a queue of impatient motorists behind you when you’re in a car is actually quite fun. This is probably because you are not just one impatient idiot away from death or injury.

Lesson Four:

This lesson covered dual carriageways, the sort which are basically motorways in all but name. This was the first part of the process of learning to drive where I didn’t already have some sort of analogous experience to draw upon. Thankfully, getting onto the dual carriageway seems to be the hardest part, and it is actually fairly easy due to good design. As someone who normally experiences UK road design on a bike, I was surprised to see that UK road engineers can design something properly, provided that it is something which is only used by fast motor vehicles.

The main issue with dual carriageways it seems is the roundabouts at the entrances and exits. These suffer from the same problems as all roundabouts in this country; an unwillingness of designers to standardise designs in a logical manner. The result of this is that when encountering a roundabout for the first time, you don’t really know what to expect. A handful of standardised roundabout templates as used in The Netherlands (which also happen to acknowledge the existence of other transport modes without treating their users like crap) is so obviously a good idea. The fact that we in the UK have not already done so neatly illustrates the complete failure of British road design.

Lesson Five:

My instructor wasn’t available for the usual weekend lesson, so instead I had a lesson before work with the intention of finishing at my place of work in Wrexham. This was the first time driving for any length of time without any instruction. Naturally I took the route to Wrexham I would’ve chosen were I traveling by bike (with a few tweaks to make the route car-legal). Travelling through inner Chester, the car was of course a hugely inappropriate choice of transport, yet my passage through the centre of the city was made easier by  expensive bits engineering such as the inner ring road, which were built to facilitate short journeys into the city by individuals using vehicles designed for five.

In this lesson, my experience of using the roads on the bike was less helpful; the instructor told me I was checking the blind spot on the driver-side more frequently than was necessary. I’m sure anyone who has ridden on UK roads for any length of time will know why I’ve fallen into this habit.

Lesson Six:

Reverse (parallel) parking today. Like all the other manoeuvres, I got it right first time. I think my driving instructor is a bit baffled by this, considering the fact that my general driving is not perfect. However, he doesn’t know that I used to drive a pallet truck for a few years in an old part-time job, and all of the manoeuvres done so far were frequently required doing that job.

There seem to be a few bad habits I’ve picked up from cycling, such as having to make a conscious effort to feed through the steering wheel when steering, and some road positioning which is taken from vehicular cycling but probably just confuses my instructor, such as positioning the car in a way to prevent overtaking which I would not feel happy with were I on a bike.

I found out the instructor used to have a 60s Moulton, so we spent much of the lesson talking about the new models, of which he was not aware.

Theory Test:

Other than a handful of motor vehicle-specific questions (generally motorway-related questions) anyone who has been cycling for a while should have picked up what they need to know to do ok in the multiple-choice part of the test.

The hazard perception test looks hilariously dated. I get the impression that much of the development work will have been done at a time when the government representative responsible for the project would have used the term, “new-fangled computers.” The test takes the form of several video clips taken with a single fixed video camera, at roughly VHS-quality from the front of a car. You are encouraged to click you see a hazard which is developing and again when action must be taken. You do not have to click where the hazard appears on the screen because the system is too basic. Because of this, the hazard perception test does precious little to gauge a person’s ability to perceive hazards. With a bit of modern (ie: post-2000) technology, the test could be greatly improved to make it fit for purpose.

Despite its inherent limitations, if you have been riding a bike on the roads for a while, you shouldn’t have much trouble with the hazard perception test.

Practical test:

After a hiatus of nearly two months, upon returning from Japan I had a few more driving lessons in preparation for the test. It is quite telling that, despite the fact that there is a driving test centre in most towns; the waiting list for a driving test is often months long. It is possible that a big part of this is due to people who ‘brute force’ the driving test; taking a sufficiently large number of tests so as to pass one eventually. I was eventually able to get a test slot which I was able to make and thanks to years of cycling on UK roads and as you’d expect after surviving years of cycling on Britain’s roads, the test went fine, being remarkably simple considering the sheer amount of destruction a car can cause. there were some interesting anomalies I noticed during the examinations

Speed Limits:

During driving lessons and during the driving test, you are encouraged to travel as close to the posted speed limit as possible without going over, barring any major conditions which dictate otherwise. It is actually possible to be penalised for travelling within the speed limit but at a level deemed ‘too slow,’ such as 20 mph in a residential area posted as 30 mph but which really should be 20 mph. This may be a contributing factor behind drivers commonly treating speed limits as speed targets or minimums and really ought to be addressed by the Department for Cars Transport. Thankfully though, even with little driving experience, periodically glancing at the speedometer to ensure speed stays in check is a trivial matter.

Non-motorised traffic:

At no point during any of the testing was I required to know anything about the techniques recommended for cyclists by Bikeability training, such as ‘taking the lane.’ My instructor, after finding out I use a bike for transport even asked me about the reason for this particular behaviour. Whilst we are waiting for our roads to be made fit for purpose for non-motorised travellers, this really ought to be addressed by the Department for Cars Transport.

Aftermath:

Once you have passed the examinations you may be surprised to learn that unless you are one of the few people for whom actually owning a car might make sense, your shiny new pink card is basically useless for twelve months. Whilst I wouldn’t want to own a car, hiring one occasionally could be useful under certain circumstances. However, in general car hire companies will not hire a car to anyone who doesn’t have 12 months not-driving experience under their belt, so there is a very good chance that (for the time being at least) you’ve spent all that money just to change the colour of the card you use prove you are old enough to buy booze.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (2012)

The festive season is upon us once again, so I thought I would re-post a modified version of this post from 2011. Perhaps next year we will be able to get a choir together in time…

On the Twelfth day of Christmas my council gave to me

 

Twelve “Cyclists Dismount”s

 

Eleven-inch wide bike lanes 

 

Ten side-road give-ways 

 

Nine wheel-benders

 

 

Eight near misses

 
Courtesy of MiddleAgeCyclist

 Seven pointless ‘A’ frames

 
 

Six-Pounds from the budget 

 

Five bro-ken rims 

 

20120820_111530

Four “Stupid twats”

 

 
Image courtesy of road.cc

Free high-vis

 

Image courtesy of Derbyshire Constabulary

Two ASLs 

 

Image courtesy of Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest (RIP – again)

 And a bike lane running through a tree

 

Image courtesy of Facility of the Month